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Independent social work experts complain of cut in fees

Interested groups meet to discuss consequences of fee cuts

A meeting organised by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), Nagalro and independent social work agencies ISWA and WillisPalmer, was held last week to discuss the prospective cut in fees payable to independent social workers who act as expert witnesses in family proceedings.

The audience at the meeting, drawn from children's organisations, children's lawyers, the Legal Services Commission and family court bodies, heard presentations from family members, professionals and the Ministry of Justice about the proposed changes. They were told that the Ministry of Justice consultation on expert fees in family courts had failed to include independent social work expert witness evidence in its remit. As a consequence, the changes were likely to force many experienced social workers to leave this field of work. Already, it was said, independent social workers are the lowest paid of the court's expert witnesses.

Judith Timms OBE reminded the audience that Lord Laming's first recommendation in his Progress Report after the tragic death of Baby Peter Connelly was that the Secretaries of State for Health, Justice, Home Office and DCSF must collaborate in the setting of explicit strategic priorities for the protection of children and young people in each of the front line services.

However, the meeting was told that the high level in applications for care proceedings is putting severe pressure on the family court system, with the crisis in Cafcass leading to a reduction in the service they provide to children.